Pre Workout Supplements FAQ
What is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
A pre-workout supplement is a product that is designed to be taken a short period before your workouts, usually 20 – 30 minutes, with the intention of enhancing your performance in any number of ways.
Pre-workout supplements are usually available in powder form with one or two scoops constituting a serving to be mixed with water.
Most of these products are flavored and sweetened artificially, with the flavors usually being based on fruity themes due to the watery nature of the drink, as opposed to protein shakes which are milkier in texture and are more suited to flavors such as chocolate and vanilla.
What Types Are There?
Most pre-workout supplements on the market offer more or less the same range of functional ingredients, with a small amount of variation between the different brands.
Some products are aimed more at enhancing pump and vascularity with ingredients such as nitric oxide or L-arginine, while others are focused solely on eliciting protein synthesis through the use of amino acids, especially branched-chain amino acids or BCAA.
One of the main distinguishing factors between different pre-workout products is whether or not they include caffeine or other stimulants.
Some pre-workouts will include as much as 300 – 400mg of caffeine anhydrous, which is equal to 3 – 5 strong cups of coffee, and for some people this is simply too high a dose.
To cater to an increased demand of stimulant-free pre-workouts, some brands have begun developing formulations that do not include ingredients like caffeine.
How do Pre-Workouts Work and What are the Benefits?
How your pre-workout supplement works is really going to depend on the main active ingredients, and the product you opt for will of course depend on your goals and personal preferences.
To keep things simple, let’s look at some of the primary ingredients typically found in pre-workout supplements:
Go to: Top 10 BCAA Supplements
Branched-chain amino acids or BCAA are essential amino acids involved in the activation of protein synthesis within the body, and this process is what enables our bodies to develop new muscle tissues from the proteins in our diet.
There are three BCAA, which are L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-isoleucine, with L-leucine playing the most instrumental role in stimulating protein synthesis.These amino acids are usually formulated in a 2:1:1 or 3:1:1 ratio, and you can also purchase L-leucine in isolated form.
Free form L-leucine is arguably as effective as a complete BCAA supplement.
Go To: Top 10 Creatine Supplements
Creatine is one of the most extensively researched and proven supplements available, and its benefits have been documented for decades in the context of bodybuilding and athleticism.
Creatine is instrumental in increasing the turnover rate of cell adenosine triphosphate or ATP, which essentially acts as a ‘metabolic currency’ for energy within the body.Any pre-workout supplement worth its salt will contain a dose of around 5g creatine monohydrate as this will facilitate the hydration of muscles as well as enhancing your overall strength levels and recovery capacity.
Go To: Top 10 Arginine Supplements
These two ingredients work wonders for eliciting vasodilatation or the widening of your blood vessels, thereby allowing more water, amino acids, and other nutrients to reach your muscle tissues.
Citrulline malate has been proven to improve anaerobic performance and recovery capabilities in weightlifters, so this is another lab-tested ingredient that you will definitely want to see in your pre-workout supplement.
Other ingredients often found in pre-workouts include:
- Thermogenics; such as:
- Green Tea Extract
- Stimulants; such as:
- Caffeine Anhydrous; and
- Fat Mobilizers; such as:
- Yohimbine HCL
- Nootropics; such as:
- Huperzine A
All of these ingredients provide their own range of respective benefits but when training with weights we are primarily focused on offsetting catabolism and maximizing both performance and recovery, so BCAA, creatine, and some kind of vasodilator should be top on our list of priorities.
Assessing the Quality of Pre-Workout Supplement vs. Other Sources
can be found in most complete protein sources, including whey protein, but it is more easily and rapidly digested in isolated form (as found in pre-workouts products) which makes it more suitable for use before, during, and after workouts.
is another ingredient often found in meat, especially beef, but the concentrations are so low that you would have to eat pounds of meat to make up a 5g dose of creatine monohydrate.
and other pump enhancers may be found in some foods but again, in very low concentrations not worth considering for pre-workout purposes.
Remember that we are primarily looking for ingredients that will enhance our performance during training, while also maximizing our recovery capacity.
With this in mind, we can see how green tea, for example, is highly suitable for use outside of workouts to increase our metabolic rate by a small amount, and a fat mobilizing compound such as Yohimbine HCL is an excellent accompaniment to a fasted cardio session.
Who Can Benefit from Using Pre-Workout Supplements and How?
Anyone who is serious about making progress in their strength and aesthetic endeavors could stand to benefit from using a pre-workout supplement.
The Benefits of Pre-Workouts Include:
- Enhanced Energy and Mental Focus;
- Increased Pump;
- Activation of Protein Synthesis;
- Reduction of Muscle Catabolism (Breakdown);
- Increased Maximal Strength Output;
- Decreased Lactic Acid Accumulation during sets*; and
- Increase Thermogenesis and Fat Mobilization
All of this will of course depend on the exact product you choose as there is some variety from one brand to the next.
*Beta Alanine is a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements that can help reduce the ‘burn’ caused by lactate accumulation in muscles, thereby increasing your ability to make it through sets when using somewhat higher rep ranges.
Are Pre-Workout Supplements Worth the Money and Do I Need One?
Yes and no; it really depends on your current training goals and level of experience.
If you are a 17 year old guy first stepping into a gym then you probably don’t need to use any supplements aside from a basic whey protein powder, but if you have been lifting for a few years then a pre-workout formula is definitely worth considering.
Strictly speaking, pre-workouts are non-essential items, but some of the proven ingredients in them like BCAA, creatine, citrulline malate, beta alanine, can all provide a worthwhile boost to your training capacity and ability to recover from intense workouts.
Cover the fundamentals first by buying a protein powder, fish oils, and some cheap creatine monohydrate, and then consider adding a pre-workout if your budget allows it.
Are They Dangerous or Addictive?
Certainly not, but as with all things you should use them sensibly.
Search on Google and you will very easily be able to find stories of teenagers who damaged their kidneys by taking too much creatine with too little water, and it is not unheard of for people to destroy their stomach lining by abusing caffeine powder.
These are all anomalous examples of people who used perfectly safe substances irresponsibly, and the exact same damage can be done with many more common household items ranging from alcohol to nutmeg!
Speak with your doctor, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the label, and you shouldn’t have any problems.
Should I Use a Pre-Workout On My Non-Training Days?
This is not necessary; however, standalone ingredients like BCAA and creatine are great additions to your off-day diet that will help to speed up the recovery process.
Will a Pre-Workout Interfere With My Fat Loss?
Not at all, in fact many of the ingredients may actually contribute to enhanced weight loss.
This is not the goal of a pre-workout supplement, but anything that helps you train harder is going to impart an indirect benefit on your physique goals.
Do Pre-Workout Products Have any Side Effects?
The only common side effect that you might need to worry about is if you suffer from sensitivity issues pertaining to caffeine or other stimulants.
Aside from that, these products are generally not advised for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women, and individuals under the age of 18 should avoid them as well.
Of course, if you suffer from any pre-existing medical conditions or are currently taking any prescription medications then you should speak to your doctor or physician before using any kind of pre-workout supplement.
Note: We recommend speaking to a doctor before taking any supplements.
How and When Should I Use a Pre-Workout Supplement?
Always adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended usage guidelines when it comes to when to take your pre-workout supplement and how much to take.
As we discussed above, most pre-workouts are taken 20 – 30 minutes prior to training, but this may vary between products so always read the label.
Furthermore, most pre-workout products are very easy to use, usually requiring that you add one or two scoops to water before stirring or shaking.
It is usually recommended to take a preworkout supplement on an empty stomach for the best results.
Related: Top 10 Supplements for Energy
How Much of a Pre-Workout Supplement Should I Use?
Again, always stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations; one or two scoops is usually sufficient. Anything over 3 scoops is going to keep you awake at night, and really won’t add to the experience much. These products are not designed to be used at high doses.
Choosing the Right Pre-Workout Supplement
If you are already taking a BCAA supplement then you might want to opt for a pre-workout that focuses more on enhancing pump, and vice versa.
Furthermore, if you already own a creatine product then you might like to consider foregoing a pre-workout that includes creatine in its formulation.
As mentioned above, you should choose caffeine-free and stimulant-free products if you suffer from sensitivity to stimulants, and if you’re the kind of person who prefers to drink a strong cup of coffee pre-workout (like your present author!) then you may also want to think twice before buying a caffeine-containing formula.
Please note: This FAQ has not been written or reviewed by a doctor or medical professional and is therefore not to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness. Nor should it be used as medical reference.